Chowing Down With Chow Runner
What started out as a longing to have delicious restaurant breakfast food home-delivered has turned into a full-time business for two Williamsport brothers. Nate and Kevin Pierce recently marked their seventh month in business with their Chow Runner food delivery service. Kevin (above) said the idea came to them around the time they began patronizing the Sawhorse Café at 303 Washington Boulevard in Williamsport. They both enjoyed the breakfast sandwiches made of fresh, local ingredients—enjoyed them so much that soon they were going to the café almost every day.
“That was actually one reason that we launched it. We were sitting around thinking ‘why can’t we get breakfast sandwiches like that delivered?’ There are so many great restaurants here that don’t deliver,” Kevin says. So the brothers began researching how to start a delivery business. They found a third-party software company for delivery services that they could use as a template to build a Website. Building software from scratch would have cost almost $100,000, so once they they cleared this financial hurdle they were on their way.
Chow Runner became a reality in January 2017 with two restaurants on board—Sawhorse Café and Crown Fried Chicken. Over the next few months, they added eight more restaurants—Joy Thai, Franco’s Lounge, Port Town Heroes, Sinner or Saint Speak Easy, Jasmine Chinese & Thai, Sticky Elbow, Kimball’s Pub, and Acme Barbecue. Finding restaurants to contract with was a challenge at first. Jesse Darrow, owner of Sawhorse Café, who had started his restaurant just two years before on the platform of using foods from local farms, was instrumental in helping the Pierces get the business off the ground. His advice to the brothers? “He kept telling us, ‘don’t give up yet, keep selling it,’” Kevin says. “He’s all about small businesses.”
Though neither of the Pierces had run his own business prior to this, they both bring helpful life experiences to the project. They grew up in Knoxville, northern Tioga County, in a family of five children. Nate, who will be thirty-five in September, studied financial management in college, took a job at JP Morgan Chase, and then went to California where he became a software designer for a small company. He returned to Pennsylvania about two years ago. Nate says his background in working for a small company and financial management “helped immensely in getting our business off the ground.”
Kevin, who also has a September birthday, his thirtieth, took a much different path. He served in the Air Force from 2006 to 2011. During that time he was stationed in North Carolina and Japan. Upon returning to his home state, he moved to Williamsport and began taking courses in an electronics and engineering program at Penn College.
It was Kevin’s experience in the Air Force that inspired the name. “Chow Runner is a term used for the person who would secure dining hall space for the entire ‘flight’ (similar to a platoon in the army) in basic training. It’s not really an honor, but it’s definitely an important role because without them, no one would eat,” Kevin says. “We named our company Chow Runner as a subtle nod to the armed forces, but also because it’s a great name.”
“We definitely have parallels in our values to the Air Force Core Values: we believe in integrity and always being up front in business dealings with customers. We want our service to be beneficial to all, even if we have to make personal sacrifices to make it happen. We constantly strive for excellence,” Kevin continues. So what’s been the feedback? “Positive” is the consensus. “I think it might even be beating my expectations so far,” Kevin says. Evening home deliveries have been popular, as well as some lunch orders for Williamsport-area offices. The busiest days, perhaps not surprisingly, are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
How does it all work? Orders are taken at www.chowrunnerpa.com where a pop-up box asks for your zip code. You also have the option to enter a hotel location. Once you click on the “find me food” button, it will bring up the list of available restaurants along with the estimated delivery fees. Delivery range is five miles from each restaurant, Kevin says. The cost is two dollars for up to three miles, and three dollars for the three-to-five mile range.
Customers pay the actual menu price of the food. “The price you pay online is the price you pay at the restaurant,” Kevin notes. “The cost of food is not marked up.” Prospective diners add meal items to their cart, check out, and then the order is automatically sent to the restaurant. Then—dinner at the door!
One of Nate and Kevin’s goals is to expand their coverage area, and to that end the brothers are looking to get more drivers on board and to add more restaurants to the list of participants. “This area has such great food,” Kevin says. “There are many great options in town, and a lot of people haven’t heard of many of them,” Nate adds. “That’s something we hope to change. We’ve had some customers tell us that they use our service specifically for that reason, to try new places from the comfort of their own home, and I honestly couldn’t be happier to see that vision come to life. We want to help local restaurants prosper and help local diners easily experience all there is to offer in town.”